Daily Archives: March 19, 2007

The FBI and NSLs 3: How High Does it Go?

Yesterday I asked a couple of simple and, I thought, fairly obvious questions:

Were there any lawyers among the dozen members of the elite CAU [Communications Analysis Unit – MA] responsible for the NSLs? If so, why didn’t they respond to the concerns of the Bureau’s legal staff? And even if there weren’t, how could a slew of “counter-terrorism experts” fail to notice when asking for emergency powers that there was no actual terrorist emergency?

To answer the second question, it turns out there were and they didn’t. In fact, Bassem Youssef, a CT expert with a covert background and several successes to his credit, was in charge of the CAU at the time and says he not only noticed, he “raised concerns with superiors”.

Stephen M. Kohn, the lawyer for Mr. Youssef, said his client told his superiors that the bureau had frequently failed to document an urgent national security need — proving “exigent circumstances,” in the bureau’s language — when obtaining personal information without a court order through the use of “national security letters.”

Mr. Youssef said his superiors had initially minimized the scope of the problem and the likely violation of laws intended to protect privacy, Mr. Kohn said.

“He identified the problems in 2005, shortly after he became unit chief,” Mr. Kohn said. “As in other matters, he was met with apathy and resistance.”

***

Mr. Kohn said that Mr. Youssef had had a long familiarity with national security letters from earlier work on counterterrorism investigations, and that he began reviewing recent letters and spotting legal deficiencies almost immediately.

“It was the same issue that was in the inspector general’s report,” Mr. Kohn said Sunday. “They didn’t have the proper legal justifications in writing to back up their searches.”

If Mr Youssef was in charge of the CAU and most of the disputed NSLs were submitted by the CAU, why didn’t he simply stop them? Why didn’t he call in the agents who were improperly filing and sending the NSLs and order them to correct the procedure or cease using them?

To answer those questions, we have to know the answers to two other key questions:

  1. Who were the “superiors” in question? Mueller? Or does it go higher?
  2. Why did Youssef feel it necessary to express his “concerns” about the NSLs to them? It was his department, he was in charge, why not just end the abuse?

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